Prescott College: On the Forefront of Sustainability and Social Justice Programs

Prescott College

By Michelle Glicksman

When Prescott College was founded in the 1960s, its founder, Dr. Charles Franklin Parker, had a vision “for a pioneering, even radical experiment in higher education” and “to graduate society’s leaders for the 21st century who would be needed to solve the world’s growing environmental and social problems.”

Almost 60 years later, that mission is even more relevant, says the college’s president, John Flicker.

“Students entering college today will need to solve problems we don’t yet understand, with technologies that may not yet exist. This argues for a broad liberal arts education in addition to skills typically needed in the job market. It calls for critical thinking and cultivating values that will prepare them to make a living making a difference in their world,” he says.

Prescott College, located in Prescott, Ariz., is a small, non-profit liberal arts college—and the only private liberal arts college in the state. Sustainability and social justice are integral themes and programs for the school, which has an enrollment of approximately 300 on-campus students, and approximately 600 students attending online.

A Growth Phase

The college is growing rapidly, both in student enrollment, number of faculty, and even physical location. In addition to attracting a larger student body due to its curriculum and offerings, in January 2019, Green Mountain College, located in Vermont, announced its closure after 185 years. The two schools had been sister schools, and both members of the EcoLeague and the Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning.

“We worked out a teach-out system [where students would have a guaranteed transfer],” Flicker shares. “Over 140 Green Mountain students have confirmed they are transferring here, and 16 faculty and staff members. We will also be operating a Green Mountain Center here on campus to continue Green Mountain’s legacy. It was around for 185 years and we want to maintain and honor that. Our missions are so closely aligned that it was a natural fit for the students and faculty who are coming here.”

New Programs

In addition to honoring Green Mountain’s legacy, welcoming the faculty to the staff of Prescott College also helps the college achieve one of its own growth goals—adding new programs.

“We are now able to offer a master of science in environmental studies, a master of arts in environmental humanities, a master of science in sustainable communities, a master of science in sustainable food systems, and an MBA in sustainability leadership,” he says. “Those are programs we’ve wanted to launch for a long time, and this transfer of faculty has allowed us to do that quicker than we would have otherwise been able to.”

The campus itself—where everything is recycled and solar power is utilized, amongst other initiatives—is growing as well. APS is vacating land adjacent to the campus, and the college has been working with the City of Prescott to purchase the property. The campus will expand onto those 4.5 acres in the summer of 2020.

A few months ago, Prescott College conveyed a historic building that was on their property to Hilton, for a Hilton Garden Inn that is being built nearby. That building will be used as the Inn’s conference center, and the funds Prescott College received for it enabled them to buy the APS property.

Partnership With Ecosa

The school also recently developed a partnership with the Ecosa Institute to begin offering a certificate in regenerative ecological design through Prescott College.

“This is a program that we’ve always worked with, but they were a separate organization,” Flicker explains. “Many of the students taking classes from the Ecosa Institute were from Green Mountain College, and when that college closed, they wanted their Ecosa work still accredited, as well as to continue with the program. So, that was a big incentive to make [a partnership] happen.”

Today, Ecosa Institute’s programs and curriculum will be offered through Prescott College.

“Ecosa has always been a program that was a natural fit for us and it should have happened a long time ago, this just prompted us to do it. We’re really pleased that now it’s totally entwined in Prescott College. It just works well for everybody.”

And, four years ago, Ecosa had purchased 69 acres in the Granite Dells—a region just north of Prescott known for its exposed bedrock and large boulders of granite—saving it from development and instead using it as a research site.

“It’s a fabulous research area, plus hiking and biking,” says Flicker.

With the partnership, now Prescott College owns it and will also be using it as a research area.

A Worldly Education

Of course, at a school where environmental sustainability and social justice is at the forefront of teachings, the campus extends beyond just the college campus and the Granite Dells, but around the world.

The students are in the field often, rather than the classroom, and that field extends globally. One field station is at the Kino Bay Center, located on the shores of the Gulf of California in Sonora, Mexico, which “facilitates, supports and integrates collaborative efforts promoting sustainable use and conservation of resources in the culturally and biologically rich Midriff Island Region of the Gulf of California.”

The college also has a field station in Kenya, the Dopoi Center, located in the southern Rift Valley. The area borders the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve, and students there study at the Maasai Education, Research and Conservation Institute (MERC) in the rural homeland of the Maasai community.

“A big part of what we want our students to do is to gain an awareness of other cultures and other societies to understand and appreciate ones other than their own,” Flicker explains.

The Future

Next summer, Prescott College will host the annual EcoLeague retreat. A consortium of six liberal arts colleges dedicated to the ecologically focused education and to modeling sustainability through their operations and facilities, the retreat focuses on inclusion and diversity in environmental education.

“We talk about how we can exchange programs and how we can keep our colleges relevant to the future and how do we bring more diversity into the environmental movement. Also, we will talk about whether we want to bring on more urban colleges.

“Everything that’s happening right now, our growth and our future, it’s just a very exciting time.”

For more, visit Prescott College at

Photos courtesy Prescott College

Michelle Glicksman is the editor-in-chief of Green Living MagazineShe is a prolific writer and editor, and enjoys spending time with her family and friends, as well as traveling. Find her on Instagram at @michelleglicksman

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